Category Archives: Joan

The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (2010)

In this intriguing page-turner, Elly Griffiths introduces forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. A professor at the local university, she finds herself called into a murder investigation by the police when a child goes missing and bones are uncovered in the remote marshy area where Ruth lives. During the course of the investigation, Ruth grows closer to Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson. The edition of The Crossing Places I read previewed the first two chapters of the second book in the series, The Janus Stone. Griffiths managed to hook me into that story too. I’m longing to learn more about forensic archaeology, curious to discover what lies beneath the reclusive Ruth, and of course, anxious to see how the relationship between Ruth and Harry will evolve.

Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (2016)

Short chapters alternate among three young evacuees in East Prussia during the winter of 1945. A fourth voice also fits into the storyline. Joana, Florian, Emilia, and Alfred are aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff when it is hit by a Russian torpedo and quickly sinks. The story leads up to this moment when life-changing decisions are made. We get to know, love, and understand the differing life circumstances that have brought these characters together from all over Eastern Europe at a crucial time in the war. Ruta Sepetys has a talent for drawing tears from her readers and little known stories from history. Between Shades of Gray exposed the tragic story of the Lithuanian prisoners in Siberia with the same drama and sensitivity that she tells this story of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. The epilogue in Salt to the Sea adds another poignant note to this moment in historical fiction.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger (2013)

In William Kent Krueger’s novel, narrator Frank remembers the summer of 1961 when his perspective on life changed forever. A smart aleck thirteen year old, Frank thought he knew it all. He and his younger brother Jake are faced with multiple killings in their small Minnesota town and figure out the awful truth behind the hardest death of all. Part mystery, part poignant family drama, Ordinary Grace shows how bad things happen to good people and what you see is not always the whole story. It took the innocence of childhood to see beyond the surface. A tender epilogue set forty years later ties up loose ends and shows how the summer of 1961 truly shaped the lives of the Drum family.

V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton (2011)

Private eye Kinsey Millhone accidentally uncovers a shoplifting ring with roots in organized crime as she goes on a rare shopping spree. In V is for Vengeance, author Sue Grafton presents points of view from multiple characters, allowing seemingly unrelated stories to converge and play into the crime Kinsey is obsessed with solving. The mystery and a struggle for her life almost keep her from remembering her long dreaded 38th birthday. Her gentle and wise octogenarian landlord/neighbor and his quirky brother add levity to the story and to Kinsey's perilous lifestyle. Did you know? A new Kinsey Millhone book was released recently. Check out Y is for Yesterday today. And if you enjoy Sue Grafton’s alphabet books, browse our list of other popular mystery and suspense series.

Truly, Madly, Guilty by Liane Moriarty (2016)

Liane Moriarty weaves an intricate story around three families and a barbecue they attended. The reader is kept guessing about a significant event that occurs at the party, as chapters alternate between the day of the barbecue and the present, several weeks afterward. Bit by bit, the story unravels from multiple perspectives. In the process, many layers of family history and psychological characteristics are revealed in Truly, Madly, Guilty. The barbecue seemed to bring out secrets hidden beneath the surface. Life will never be the same for these characters living in the suburbs of Sydney.

My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith (2017)

Paul Stuart is a food/wine writer with a deadline. His focus is diverted when his live-in girlfriend of four years runs off with her trainer. Escaping to Tuscany sounds like a solution for both problems. The story starts like a madcap adventure in Italy, but develops into a study of humanity with a bit of romance thrown in for good measure. Once his transportation issue is resolved, thus the title of the book, Paul is free to explore the beautiful countryside and research local food and wine. His route is definitely not a typical tourist package. Paul has command of the Italian language and quickly makes friends. He serves as a confidant to a few local men and even lends a helping hand in a longtime conflict. During the course of his stay, he entertains three ladies (two from his past and a new love interest). His working vacation may be just what was needed for his personal and professional dilemmas. Alexander McCall Smith is well known for his long running series, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and others, but the standalone novel My Italian Bulldozer stands out as a feel good read.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline (2017)

An interesting fictional memoir of the subject of the famous Andrew Wyeth painting: Christina's World. Christina Olson lived her whole life on her family's ancestral farm in Maine. Determined, hardworking, and stubborn, Christina never gave in to her crippling disease as it progressed throughout her lifetime. Andrew "Andy" Wyeth used the Olson house as his studio for many summers, befriending and immortalizing Christina. In A Piece of the World, Christina Baker Kline (who wrote Orphan Train) makes readers wonder if the real Christina Olson was as endearing as this well-developed character. For more behind the scenes information, check out the Museum of Modern Art and Mental Floss.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (2012)

Harold Fry has lived a fairly ordinary life. He has managed to avoid conflict, but there are some unresolved terrible secrets in his past. One letter from an old coworker, one conversation with a perfect stranger, and Harold is about to do something extraordinary. Powerful, emotional, showing it’s never too late to change, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a journey the reader will not soon forget. Check out Rachel Joyce’s debut today.

The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood (2013)

In Ann Hood’s novel, a clever storyline follows two women's lives some fifty years apart against a backdrop of significant events in American history: the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and its aftermath, and the 1960 presidential election and inauguration of JFK. At one point in The Obituary Writer, their two storylines merge into one. Vivien and Claire are not contemporaries, yet they share certain struggles and dreams. Can one woman's regrets bring closure and happiness to another woman? With the women's movement and all the changes of the 20th century, did individual women's lives change that much? Even in the 21st century, do women continue to feel trapped in traditional roles?

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (2009)

As the first in a new series by Alan Bradley, this mystery has promise. Flavia is delightful, charming, intelligent, and an almost too clever eleven-year-old chemist who deftly solves a murder in her English village in the early 1950s. The reader wants to scream at her older sisters, her silent father, and the authorities to get out of the way and let Flavia solve the crime in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.